New job classification rankles union as budget talks loom

CUPE Branch 561 wants better pay for unionized education assistants in Coquitlam district while board chair says inclusion support workers are needed to assist in schools

More teachers, support workers and better pay and benefits for education assistants will be on the wish list for local unions and other groups attending the School District 43 budget meeting Tuesday, April 9.

With a $300 million budget on the line, and most of the funds already earmarked for running local schools, the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association and CUPE Brach 561 will be looking for small improvements to spending to help support vulnerable students.

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“I’m still gong to push out there for the EAs (who work with students with special needs). I would like to see them hire qualified EAs like they did in 2010 and put them in high schools and rotate them when they need them,” said president Dave Ginter.

Among his concerns is the creation of a new position called a learning inclusion support worker who would have one year of post-secondary education in a related field, instead of two years required for the EA job, and would support students with less intensive needs.

Ginter said he opposes the new job classification, which he says is a lower classification of EA not a new classification, and will file a complaint with a labour arbitrator to back his claim.

Other strategies could be put in place to attract more EAs, Ginter said, including increasing pay and providing full time benefits.

But for board chair Barb Hobson the new learning inclusion support workers are necessary to ensure students with special needs get extra help and she’s behind the idea.

“We are unable to fill all of those jobs so really the whole school suffers when someone is sick or unable to attend work. There is so much reorganization in a building and the ones who suffer are the ones with the lower needs where the ones who have higher needs get the service,” Hobson said.

She said the district continually hires EAs but the demand is high for their special skills and there aren’t enough qualified workers to fulfill all the jobs available.

The new post, meanwhile, pays $23.58 an hour for a 30-hour work week, plus 16% in lieu of benefits, for work that includes assisting in a group setting, helping students with daily goals, modifying materials and instructions for students as directed by a teacher, helping on field trips and escorting students to and from a bus or taxi, among other things.

But while Ginter and Hobson disagree on how the district should acquire staff to support struggling students, both are looking forward to next week’s preliminary budget meeting.

Hobson would like to see more parents show up, as well.

“I want them to know what the budget process is and how transparent it is and I want them to understand it more fully so that if they have discussions with their MLAs they would be more informed and discuss any concerns they have,” Hobson said.

CUPE’s Ginter, meanwhile, said he wants to see how the district plans to spend its allotted cash, most of it from the province, although $14 million, comes from fees paid by foreign students to attend schools here.

Local teachers will also be keeping watch, says Coquitlam Teachers Association president Ken Christensen, because the preliminary budget is where critical decisions are made.

Christensen said he’ll be watching for more support for students such as counsellors and learning support teachers.

Few surprises are expected because the district has been able to manage spending while also building up surpluses, mostly from international fees, to help smooth bumps in funding.

The meeting schedule is as follows:

• Tuesday, April 9, at 7 p.m. at 1100 Winslow Avenue, Coquitlam, the preliminary budget will be presented.

• Tuesday, April 16, 6:30 p.m., same location, stakeholder feedback presentations.

• Tuesday, April 23, 7 p.m., final budget presentation and board approval.

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